NEAC Distinguished Speakers Bureau — Korea Speakers

Juhn Y. Ahn

April 1, 2020-March 31, 2023

Juhn Y. Ahn is Associate Professor of Buddhist and Korean Studies at the University of Michigan and the author of Buddhas and Ancestors: Religion and Wealth in Fourteenth-Century Korea (University of Washington Press, 2018). His publications also include Transgression in Korea: Beyond Resistance and Control (University of Michigan Press, 2018) and Gongan Collections I, Collected Works of Korean Buddhism, Vol. 7-1 (Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, 2012). His research on Korean history, Buddhism, and medicine appeared in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Journal of Chinese Religions, Seoul Journal of Korean Studies, and The Oxford Handbook of Meditation. His current research focuses on the economic history of Korea during the Koryŏ period (918-1392), reading practices in Song-dynasty (960-1279) Chan Buddhism, and the cultural history of weather and wealth during the Chosŏn period (1392-1910) in Korea.

Presentations offered by Professor Ahn:

Lost Graves and Recycled Mourning Sheds: How the Late Koryŏ Elite Took the Drama out of Afterlife

Almost three decades ago, the desecration of a pair of graves near the border with North Korea led to discovery of the “lost” grave of assistant chancellor Kwŏn Chun (1281-1352). What Kwŏn’s elegantly decorated grave revealed was a world where the elite used their wealth to infuse the afterlife with a sense of individual drama. But this world, like Kwŏn’s grave and the monastery that guarded it, was lost. It was replaced by a world regulated strictly by standardized ritual where the ancestors of families of equal social standing occupied the same, indistinguishable postmortem space. In this new world of standardized family rituals it made more sense to follow the example of assistant chancellor Yun T’aek (1289-1370) who deemed it appropriate to honor his ancestors in a recycled mourning shed. This talk will explain the historical conditions that led to this remarkable transformation.

King Sejong the Great and the Cultural History of Weather, Religion, and Wealth in Early Chosŏn Korea

King Sejong (r. 1418-1450), whose much adored image is prominently displayed on Korea’s green-colored banknote and in the middle of Gwanghwamun Square, is often, if not always, remembered and celebrated for his role in the creation of the Korean alphabet, his passion for science, and his love for the common people. This image of the much beloved king, which developed under unique historical circumstances, obscures more than it reveals. Nationalistic efforts to paint King Sejong as an ideal Confucian monarch germinated during the colonial period and later gained steam after the fall of Korea’s first president Syngman Rhee in 1960. But, needless to say, King Sejong was more than just a caring benevolent Confucian monarch. Like many others who occupied the Chosŏn throne, Sejong was a complex figure who sought creative and politically expedient ways to address concerns that continued to trouble the relatively young Chosŏn dynasty. This talk will take a close look at the growing concerns about weather, religion, and wealth in Early Chosŏn Korea and shed new light on this oft-neglected aspect of Sejong and his reign.

The Hidden Door, the Unclimbable Stairs, and the Broken Lightbulb: A Cultural History of the City in Korea

The wild success enjoyed by Bong Joon Ho and his recent film Parasite (2019) and also Park Chan Wook and his vengeance trilogy Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Old Boy (2003), and Lady Vengeance (2005) can be attributed to a variety of different factors: creative storytelling, persuasive and powerful acting by a skillful cast, and the development of a distinctive mis-en-scène to name a few. But what also makes these films so enjoyable is arguably their ability to provide a way for the audience—a domestic and international audience—to vicariously experience the subtle tensions that quietly disturb the idealized image of the everyday in industrialized, urban Korea. To explain how this works, this talk will treat these and other related Korean films as palimpsests and show how doors, stairs, and even lightbulbs are hidden, exposed, and redefined to bring the unique experience of Korea as a city-written-over-a-city to life.

Juhn Ahn currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities available in his term on the NEAC DSB:

3 engagements between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021

3 engagements between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022

3 engagements between April 1, 2022 and March 31 2023

Jinsoo An

August 1, 2020-March 31, 2023

Jinsoo An is Associate Professor at the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures of the University of California, Berkeley. He received his doctoral degree from the Department of Film and Television of UCLA and subsequently taught at Hongik University in Seoul, South Korea before joining the faculty at UC Berkeley in 2012. His research interests encompass Korean film history, East Asian cinema, film genre, authorship, history and memory, film historiography, and film censorship. His articles have appeared in positions: asia critique, Journal of Korean Studies, Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema, and China Review. His 2018 book, Parameters of Disavowal: Colonial Representation in South Korean Cinema, reassesses South Korea’s cinematic rendition of the colonial past as a particular type of knowledge production integral to the historic-cultural logic of the Cold War system. His current research focuses on South Korean cinema under authoritarianism and practices of film censorship during the 1970s.

Presentations offered by Professor An:

Stupendous Villainy in Recent Korean Popular Films

The continuing success of Korean films has garnered the interest of critics in the persistence of the popular genre form. Their appropriation of blockbuster aesthetics, reworking of narrative motifs and genre conventions, as well as the treatment of diverse subject matters, have all received keen critical attention. This presentation, however, explores a narrower element of Korean film’s popular appeal: the depiction of villainy. It explores the strange depth of antiheroes and psychopaths as a distinct aesthetic achievement and the result of recent popular cinema’s narrational prowess. Concurrently, it illuminates the configuration of the aberrant (e.g., the figure of the sociopath or psychopath) that focalizes a dimension of social life hitherto underexamined in other media representations. To be sure, numerous scholars have explored the topics of violence and evil that characterize the strong appeal of Korean film as “extreme” cinema. My presentation sets itself in dialogue with this preceding body of scholarship while also veering towards the narrational and aesthetic dimensions of such a configuration. The narrative techniques in formulating the archetype of the villain not only underscore the broad range and depth of new trends in popular filmmaking, but also call for new ways in conceptualizing the complex confluence of filmic representation, film spectatorship and the sociocultural forces that shape the appeal of Korean cinema, both domestically and internationally.

South Korean Cinema Under Authoritarianism

The 1970s has long been characterized as the nadir of South Korean cinema. Seized by the grip of an authoritarian regime and facing volatile changes within the broader film and media environment itself (such as the spread of television), South Korean cinema entered an extended period of decline that lasted until the 1980s. However, the 1970s also witnessed the birth of a wide array of unusual popular films, accompanied by similarly unique modes of production, consumption, and aesthetic features. This presentation brings attention to an oft-neglected decade of filmmaking in order to interrogate the complex relationship between authoritarian politics and popular films. In particular, this presentation will explore the proliferation of minor film genres, state sponsorship of the “superior film” (usu yŏnghwa in Korean) and its institutionalization, censorship controversies and their industrial repercussions, the rise of discourse on audio-visual media and its impact on the idea of film art, and the question of excessive violence in film aesthetics. This presentation thereby aims to offer a granular history of the tensions and negotiations that arose between the state apparatus and filmmaking personnel, as both interacted closely to make film popular and politically legitimate in the 1970s.

The Question of “Japan” in South Korean Cinema

This presentation offers an overview of one of the most contentious subjects of South Korean cinema: the legacy of colonialism and the question of Japan. From liberation in 1945 until 1997, South Korea maintained a “closed-door” policy towards Japan and outright banned the import of Japanese cinema. In the meantime, South Korea has consistently produced films that revisit the colonial past to promulgate anti-colonial nationalism on the screen. My presentation explores the controversies surrounding the import of waesaek yŏnghwa [literally, “Japanese-colored films”] of the mid-1960s. Set against the backdrop of the 1965 normalization of relations between Japan and Korea, the debate over waesaek yŏnghwa signals a serious challenge to the encroachment of Japanese cinema and visual imagery onto Korean screens. While tracing the convoluted contours of film exchanges between Japan and Korea during the 1960s, this talk also proceeds to highlight one of the era’s most popular film genres, the so-called “Manchurian action film,” which embodied the mandate to uphold the anti-colonial struggle and helped it gain distinct popular appeal. While South Korea’s Manchurian action films have received critical interest for their unique configuration of themes such as colonial history, nationalism, masculinity, geography and genre aesthetics, this presentation revisits the genre to instead interrogate the political economy of anti-colonial nationalism.

Jinsoo An currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities available in his term on the NEAC DSB:

2 engagements between August 1, 2020-March 31, 2021

2 engagements between April 1, 2021-March 31, 2022

2 engagements between April 1, 2022-March 31 2023

Kyung Hyun Kim

April 1, 2019-March 31, 2022

Kyung Hyun Kim serves as a professor in the Department of East Asian Studies, UC Irvine. He received his B.A. (East Asian Studies and Politics) from Oberlin College, and his Ph.D. from Cinema Studies at USC. He is a novelist, scholar, and film producer. He is author of Virtual Hallyu: Korean Cinema of the Global Era (2011), The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema (2004), and a Korean-language novel entitled In Search of Lost G (Ireo beorin G-rul chajaso, 2014). He has coproduced two award-winning feature films, Never Forever (2007) and The Housemaid (2010). Currently completing his book monograph entitled Hegemonic Mimicry: Korean Popular Culture of the 21st Century, and a film project entitled Killing Men set in Jeju Island Massacre of 1948, he, with Yourim Lee, received the 2018 KOFIC Award for Best Movie Concept Development. He has held visiting teaching appointments at Seoul National University, Yonsei University, Korea University, KAIST, and UCLA.

Presentations Offered by Professor Kim:

South Korean Cinema’s Success in the Digital Age: Seen Through Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite

Recent zombie movies or streaming dramas set in Korea, such as Train to Busan or the Netflix drama Kingdom, have become popular through the metaphor of stench that communicates fear and insecurity over disposable lives that must be excluded and therefore unseen in order for capitalism to continue its mission. Capitalism’s hygienic sensitivity is extremely high; one simply cannot expect to sell products very well in filthy conditions. Unlike these or other American horror films such as Jordan Peele’s Us that only permit viewers to cinematically imagine today’s growing job insecurity through fantasy genre, the 2020 Academy Award-winner Parasite depicts the growing fear of the poor and the parasitic unfiltered. This talk will probe why Korean cinema’s success over the past twenty years is unparalleled in the history of global cinema, and how Bong Joon-ho’s films are uniquely positioned to excel both in Korea and elsewhere in the world.

Becoming-Black: Korean Hip-hop at the Age of Hallyu

This talk examines the emergence of hip-hop in contemporary South Korea. Drawing on Achille Mbembe’s idea of “becoming black,” it proceeds from the view of hip-hop as a worldwide phenomenon made possible by the fact that “blackness” has gained a “new fungibility” in the epoch of global capitalism. It explores the ways in which hip-hop performers in South Korea draw on their own experiences of social marginality in the ghetto-like world produced by unrelenting academic and economic competition to create their work. It also considers the ways in which the Korean language obliges rappers to experiment with its syntax and prosody in order to generate the rhymes and repetitions associated with the hip-hop genre. While rap in the South Korean context is often regarded as a successful adaptation of a foreign musical genre, in a manner that recalls the discovery and mastery of Western popular music by Korean musicians in the years following the Korean War, the talk also argues that the reception of hip-hop in the present reestablishes ties to premodern and pre-colonial practices of oral musical storytelling, such as p’ansori, that were neglected and overlooked during the period of modernization.

Post-Trauma, Korean War, and Cinema

Every Korean War film made during the era of Korean blockbusters, which also roughly overlaps with South Korea’s Sunshine Policy era (Haetpyŏt chŏngch’aek, 1999–2008), searches for a tone of post–Cold War entity, articulating within itself a critique of previous anti-communist ideological positions from which Korean military dictatorships were carved out. The Front Line (Kojijon, Jang Hun, 2011), Welcome to Dongmakgol (Welk’ŏm T’u Tongmakkol, Pak Kwanghyŏn, 2005), and even Taeguki: The Brotherhood of War (T’aegŭkki Hwinallimyŏ, Kang Je-gyu, 2004), all embrace humanist values that problematize the senseless killings and the subsequent division between North and South that pits one other against irreconcilable enmities. In all three films, North Koreans are depicted not just as villainous killers but also as traumatized estranged brothers or friends who are sick of fighting a war that is endless and unproductive. This talk will analyze various critical thematic element that are unequivocally reclaimed in these commercial films that focus on the Korean War as the rejuvenation of a rational sense of manhood and a reclamation of minjok-ian nation-hood.

Samsung Electronics and K-pop

Within just a decade, acres of corn fields that traditionally sat in the outskirts of Suwon were converted into perhaps the world’s most lucrative Silicon Valley built outside of Northern California. Suwon and its satellite cities, such as Yongin and Pyeongtaek, now boast headquarter offices and assembly lines where semi-conductors of Samsung Electronics—the pride and joy of the export-oriented Korean economy—are churned out. Though very little geographical foundation is shared between these electronic plants and K-pop music studios, which are mainly housed in Gangnam (about 30 miles north of Suwon), there are still many common aspects shared between the two. Both Samsung and K-pop are secretive and private—despite the global visibility—in its production, perfects its products through hard-work and dedication rather than choosing to innovate or revolutionize the products that they sell, display strong disdain toward defects and flawed mechanisms, and known to cater excellent services to their customers. Are the commonalities shared between perhaps two best known brands of Korea over the past several decades a mere coincidence or is there an overarching issue that bind the two? This talk will provide anecdotes, observations, and insights into contemporary Korean culture and society that attempt to analyze both Korea’s success and failure at grappling with a post-national global subjectivity.

Kyung Hyun Kim currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities remaining in his term on the NEAC DSB:

3 engagements between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021

3 engagements between April 1, 2021 and March 31 2022

Suk-Young Kim

April 1, 2018-March 31, 2021

Suk-Young Kim is Professor of Critical Studies in the Department of Theater at UCLA, where she also directs the Center for Performance Studies. Her research interests extend over a wide range of academic disciplines, such as East Asian performance and visual culture, gender and nationalism, Korean cultural studies, Russian literature, and Slavic folklore. She is the author of Illusive Utopia: Theater, Film, and Everyday Performance in North Korea (Univ. of Michigan Press, 2010), DMZ Crossing: Performing Emotional Citizenship along the Korean Border (Columbia UP, 2014), and K-Pop Live: Fans, Idols, and Multimedia Performance (Stanford UP, 2018). With Kim Yong, she also co-authored Long Road Home: Testimony of a North Korean Labor Camp Survivor (Columbia UP, 2009). Her research has been acknowledged by the International Federation for Theatre Research’s New Scholar’s Prize (2004), the Library of Congress Kluge Fellowship (2006-7), the Association for Asian Studies James Palais Book Prize (2013), the Association for Theatre in Higher Education Outstanding Book Prize (2015), and the American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship (2014-2015). Her comments on North and South Korean cultures have been featured in major media outlets, such as NPR, CNN, The New York Times, and Billboard Magazine, among others.

Presentations offered by Professor Kim:

What Is K-Pop?

K-pop is a dynamic field with many faces: for the South Korean government, it is a prominent tool for the nation to promote its growing influence through soft power; for Asian American youth, it provides an occasion to claim their cultural coolness; for industry insiders and consumers, it presents a unique entertainment form where various media formats converge; for business communities, it provides effective marketing opportunities. By taking into consideration these various factors that comprise what we call K-pop, this talk explores its dynamic history, practice, and cultural implications.

Hallyu (Korean Cultural Wave) and the Globalization of Korean Media

South Korea might not be the most powerful economic base in the world, but it has certainly become the major cultural hub attracting global attention via the productive dissemination of its pop cultural products. Known as hallyu, or the Korean cultural wave, the sustained popularity of Korean pop has transformed South Korea into a major cultural player in the new millennium. How does the seemingly innocuous and even frivolous popular entertainment profoundly influence the way Korean national identity is imagined while simultaneously striving to appeal to global fandom? This lecture explores this question by looking into representative films, TV dramas, K-pop music, and new media entertainment, which have enjoyed worldwide circulation and have collectively created the complex phenomenon of hallyu as we know of it today. While the lecture is organized according to genres and media platforms, recurring themes—production and consumption, star system and fandom, bodily aesthetics, urban development and tourism—capture the dynamics of hallyu.

What Not to Wear: Women’s Fashion and Body Politics in North Korea

North Korea is a highly fashion-conscious place where style and politics go hand in hand. For decades, North Korea’s political leaders have been preoccupied with designing uniforms for almost every sector of society. Fashion, especially women’s fashion, is seen as a national project, meant to promote group identity and ideology. As in many socialist regimes, designers in North Korea have been drawn to masculine, military styles that seem to embody revolutionary spirit. But women’s fashion in North Korea also openly allows for a contradictory sense of traditional femininity. This talk explores these body politics in fashion as they are represented across a wide spectrum of North Korean visual media, such as theater, film, magazine illustrations, paintings, and posters.

Sun Joo Kim

April 1, 2018-March 31, 2021

Sun Joo Kim is Harvard-Yenching Professor of Korean History in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. She began teaching Korean history at Harvard in 2001, after receiving her Ph.D. in Korean history from the University of Washington in 2000. She earned her Master’s degree from the University of Washington and her bachelor’s degree from Yonsei University (Seoul, Korea). She has a broad range of research interests in the social and cultural history of Chosŏn Korea (1392–1910), including the regional history of the northern part of Korea, regional identity, popular movements, historical memory, the everyday lives of people, the history of emotions, law and society, and art history. She is the author of Voice from the North: Resurrecting Regional Identity through the Life and Work of Yi Sihang (1672–1736) (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013) and Marginality and Subversion in Korea: The Hong Kyŏngnae Rebellion of 1812 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007), and is a co-author of Wrongful Deaths: Selected Inquest Records from Nineteenth-Century Korea (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014). She has also edited several books. Her research articles have appeared in peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Asian Studies, Journal of Korean Studies, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, and Journal of Social History. She has received a number of fellowships and grants, including a Social Science Research Council Doctoral Research Fellowship (1993–94), Korea Foundation Advanced Research Grants (2003–4 and 2006–7), and an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Collaborative Research Fellowship (2009–11).

Presentations offered by Professor Kim:

Regionality and Memory in History: Heroification of Kim Kyŏngsŏ

Numerous scholarly works have been produced on “memory projects” as part of the culture and politics of nation-states in the modern world. Yet remaking of the past is not the monopoly of modernity. This lecture investigates the problem of engineering memory in Chosŏn Korea. In particular, I examine the emergence of new cultural imagery built by the Chosŏn state and its “national” elites to legitimate the state’s rule and its position in the changing environment of East Asia. This “national” project involved intellectual movements to revisit and rewrite Chosŏn Korea’s historical past. At the same time, I investigate the construction of cultural identity by local elites as manifested in various cultural projects. Specifically, I analyze the processes of inventing, commemorating, and enshrining “public memory”—and the historical and cultural contexts in which such processes took place—through the case of Kim Kyŏngsŏ, a commanding general during the Ming-Chosŏn joint war against the rising Jurchen in 1619.

My Own Flesh and Blood: Contention over Paternal Love and Material Greed in Korean Slavery

This lecture examines the relationship between human emotions and slavery in Chosŏn Korea (1392–1910) by examining the legislative processes as well as private practices concerning the status of the offspring of a yangban man and his slave-status concubine. The legislative discussions and decisions on the topic at the royal court often subscribed to the Confucian emotional norms expected of parents. When yangban fathers manumitted their slave-status children, they recorded their feelings in the same affective language expressed in the legal discourses. Yet because slaves were among the yangban’s most valuable possessions, legal paths for manumission were narrowly defined and emotional norms did not always dictate parents’ actions. By investigating the larger legal framework related to slavery, together with specific cases, this lecture seeks to provide a deeper understanding of the historical impact and practices of emotional politics in relation to slavery.

Gravesite Litigation and Violence in Late Chosŏn Korea

Historical understanding of nineteenth-century Korea has been largely affected by contention between two major perspectives—nationalist and colonialist—and has tended to remain a larger structural analysis relying on official sources, although some recent studies based on unofficial sources have enriched our knowledge of local history and life. This lecture aims to have a close look at the “everyday” in nineteenth-century Korea using an unconventional primary source—inquest records. Homicide investigation records from local magistrate’s courts contain a great deal of valuable evidence of an ethnographic nature, making possible a social history of previously invisible aspects of people’s lives. By closely reading murder cases that evolved from gravesite litigation, this lecture examines the quotidian lives of ordinary men and women, the clashes between idealized moral values and the pursuit of personal gain, and the Confucian rationales that permeated Korean legal proceedings and adjudication in the late Chosŏn period.

Popular Protests in Korean History

In world history, there have been many different forms of popular protest against corrupt governments, unruly rural tyrants, and various social injustices. In Korea, the recent candlelight protests of 2016–17 caught global attention for their large scale, coherent organization, diverse groups of participants, peaceful and orderly nature, and ultimate success. In addition, Korea is known for its history of waves of popular protest over the last two hundred years. This lecture seeks to understand why, when, and how people rise up by focusing on two nineteenth-century popular movements––the Hong Kyŏng-nae Rebellion of 1812, and popular tax-resistance movements in 1862. It examines different theoretical approaches to explain popular movement in general, while also situating these two events within their particular historical and cultural contexts. By adopting a multidimensional approach that considers state-local relations, dynamic rural power relations, popular responses to social and economic changes, and cultural practices that united as well as divided rural communities, I strive to explicate the historical places of various Korean popular protests.

Sun Joo Kim currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities remaining in her term on the NEAC DSB:

3 engagements between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021

Mitchell Lerner

April 1, 2019-March 31, 2022

Mitch Lerner is Professor of History and Director of the Institute for Korean Studies at The Ohio State University, where his scholarly focus is on Korean-American international relations and security policy. He has held the Mary Ball Washington Distinguished Fulbright Chair at University College-Dublin, and been a fellow at the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. Currently, he is associate editor of the Journal of American-East Asian Relations and a senior advisor to the North Korea International Documentation Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. His first book, The Pueblo Incident (Kansas, 2004), won the John Lyman Book Award, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. He has also published three edited collections on politics and international relations, and more than a dozen articles in journals such as Diplomacy & Statecraft; the Journal of East Asian Affairs; Diplomatic History; the Seoul Journal of Korean Studies; and the Journal of Military History. He has also published op-eds in media outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Korea Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Hill, the Diplomat, the National Interest, and more. In 2005, he won the OSU Alumni Association Distinguished Teaching Award, the university’s highest teaching honor, and in 2017 he won the Ohio Academy of History Distinguished Teaching Prize.

Presentations Offered by Professor Lerner:

Understanding North Korea

Former Vice-President Walter Mondale once commented that “Anyone who claims to be an expert on North Korea is either a liar or a fool.” This talk aspires not to turn the audience members into experts but instead to provide them with an introductory-level overview of contemporary North Korea. Best suited for undergraduates and local community members, it delves into aspects of the nation’s recent history, politics, international relations, and society. Along the way, it addresses such topics as the division of the peninsula; the Kim family and the cult of personality; the influence of China on the DPRK; North Korean involvement in money laundering and counterfeiting efforts, the international weapons trade, drug production, and, of course, the current nuclear crisis, among other topics.

The Second Korean War

January 1968 was perhaps the most dangerous month on the Korean Peninsula since the end of the Korean War. On January 23, North Korean forces attacked the American spy ship USS Pueblo while it operated in the East Sea, an event that left one American sailor dead and eighty-two others held captive in North Korean prison camps. Earlier that month, a group of 31 DPRK soldiers crossed the DMZ on a mission to assassinate ROK President Park Chung Hee that narrowly missed, and which culminated in a series of gun battles in and around Seoul. “Few people,” recalled one American general in the wake of the attempt, “realize how close we came to war.” Less dramatic but equally troubling signs of increased North Korean belligerency could be found well before these two events, however. In 1966, military incidents along the DMZ had caused just 42 American and South Korean casualties; the first nine months of 1967 saw the number rise to almost 300. “Never,” wrote the East German Ambassador to North Korea as that year drew to a close, “since the end of the Korean War, have there been so many and such severe incidents at the armistice line as in 1967.” This talk makes use of recently released materials from both the US and the former communist bloc nations to offer a detailed look into these crisis years from both sides of the Cold War divide, and to offer an explanation for DPRK belligerency that puts domestic imperatives within North Korea at the heart of the story.

The Korean War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the American Homefront

This talk examines the legacy of the Korean War on American society. It considers a number of different topics, including the war’s role in convincing policymakers of the legitimacy of the concept of “limited war,” and its importance in convincing the American people to accept the militarization of their nation’s foreign policy and the necessity of fighting the Cold War in East Asia. The central focus, however, is the relationship between the Korean War and the African American civil rights movement, as this presentation suggests that the experiences of African American soldiers assigned to fight in Korea played a critical role in pushing the civil rights movement in a more confrontational direction. The audience will thus be introduced to the experiences of African American soldiers from the training camps in the deep South to the battlefields of the Korean Peninsula, to see how the exigencies of the Korean War brought American racism to the fore in ways that drove many African Americans to embrace a more militant and aggressive position, one usually associated with the Vietnam War.

Mitch Lerner currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities remaining in his term on the NEAC DSB:

3 engagements between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021

3 engagements between April 1, 2021 and March 31 2022

Jin Y. Park

April 1, 2019-March 31, 2022

Jin Y. Park is Professor of Philosophy and Religion and Founding Director of Asian Studies Program at American University. Park specializes in Korean Buddhism (especially Zen/Sŏn and Huayan/Hwaŏm Buddhism), modern Korean philosophy, philosophy and gender, Buddhist ethics, and Buddhist-postmodern comparative philosophy. Park employs Buddhist tradition to engage with contemporary issues with a special focus on gender, justice, and ethics. Park’s research on modern Korean Buddhist philosophy examines the dawn of philosophy in Korea and the East-West encounter in that context. Park has served on the Board of Directors at the American Academy of Religion. She has published numerous articles on Buddhist philosophy, Korean Buddhism, modern Korean philosophy, Buddhist-postmodern ethics, and gender and justice. Her books include Women and Buddhist Philosophy: Engaging Zen Master Kim Iryŏp (2017); Reflections of a Zen Buddhist Nun: Essays by Zen Master Kim Iryŏp (2014); Makers of Modern Korean Buddhism (2010); Merleau-Ponty and Buddhism (co-edited, 2009); Buddhism and Postmodernity: Zen, Huayan, and the Possibility of Buddhist Postmodern Ethics (2008), and Buddhisms and Deconstructions (2006). Park received her BA at Yonsei University, MA at New York University and Ph.D. at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Presentations offered by Professor Park:

Women and Buddhism: The Case of Kim Iryŏp

Is women’s experience of Buddhism different from their male counterparts? Can Buddhism give new directions for women’s search for identity and the meaning of existence? Or, to put it broadly, why and how do women engage with Buddhism? These are some of major questions that I aim to address in this presentation. To this end, I will explore the life and thoughts of the twentieth-century Korean Zen Master, Kim Iryŏp (1896-1971). A daughter of Christian parents, Iryŏp was a first-generation Korean feminist and writer who became a Zen Buddhist nun. In a Confucian patriarchal Korean society in the early twentieth century, Iryŏp actively engaged with women’s movements, as a new woman, demanding changes in Korean society, publicly bringing up the sensitive issues of woman’s sexuality and freedom. As she turns from a social activist to a religious thinker, Iryŏp finds Buddhist teaching to be the foundation of woman’s liberation. Looking closer, we find a multi-layered encounter between women and Buddhism in her life and writings. We will shed light on the meaning of autobiography, narrative identity, writing as testimony, and meaning construction in our daily existence, as well as Iryŏp’s journey to find women’s identity and freedom through Buddhist philosophy.

State Violence and Korean Buddhist Social Engagement

Since the beginning of its tradition, Korean Buddhism has been collaborating with royal families and the state. Even in modern times, Buddhist engagement with the social, political, and historical reality of Korea remained unsatisfactory compared to other religions. The state violence against Buddhism during the 1980s opened the eyes of some Korean Buddhists and a new Buddhist social movement emerged. Known as Minjung Buddhism, the movement offers us a possibility for a form for Buddhist social engagement and also its limitations. This presentation examines the history, theory, and reality of Buddhist social engagement in Korea. Among the topics to which we pay special attention are the reality of state violence, the meaning of the “people” and the people’s capacity to challenge state violence, and religion’s role in that context.

Repertoires of Practice: Religions in Korea

What is the role of religion in this secular world? What is its influence on the construction of Korean ideologies and also on the daily life of Korean people? Along with modernization, Korean society has raced to adopt Western ideas and lifestyles. Traditions were considered as things that needed to be removed in order for Korea to move forward to a modern advanced society. The religious and thought traditions of a society, however, do not disappear easily. Looking closely, we see that traditional ideas still have a strong influence on Korean people’s ways of thinking and their daily lives. This presentation considers the actions of and reactions to major religious traditions in contemporary Korea. Topics to discuss in this context include: Confucianism and democracy, Buddhism and gender, the role of Shamanism in contemporary Korean society, and Christianity and religiosity in Korea.

Philosophizing and Power: East-West Encounter in the Formation of Buddhist Philosophy in Modern Korea and Japan

Philosophy claims its goal is to search for truth. The history of philosophy, however, demonstrates that the search for truth is not free from the power structures of the time. The formation of modern philosophy in East Asia is no exception. The discipline “philosophy” came to East Asia along with the influx of the Western culture in the mid-19th century. In that milieu, Asian intellects struggled to find their identity, value their traditions, and at the same time adopt the newly introduced civilization of the West. In this presentation, I will consider how the East-West power imbalance at the beginning of the modern period is implicitly and explicitly embedded in the formation of modern Buddhist philosophy in East Asia. Through a comparative study of the cases from the Korean thinker Paek Sŏnguk (白性郁, 1897-1981) and the Japanese thinker, Inoue Enryō (井上円了, 1858-1919), this presentation considers questions including: What are the implications of this historical “beginning” of modern philosophy in the West’s marginalization of Asian thought systems? How does this context of modernity influence the way philosophy has shaped itself in Asia? And what does the shaping of modern Buddhist philosophy tell us about the relationship between philosophizing, historical context, and the power dynamics of the time?

Jin Y. Park currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities remaining in her term on the NEAC DSB:

1 engagement between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021

2 engagements between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022

Dafna Zur

April 1, 2020-March 31, 2023

Dafna Zur is an Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Stanford University. She teaches courses on Korean literature, cinema, and popular culture. Her book, Figuring Korean Futures: Children’s Literature in Modern Korea (Stanford University Press, 2017), traces the affective investments and coded aspirations made possible by children’s literature in colonial and postcolonial Korea. She is working on a new project on moral education in science and literary youth magazines in postwar North and South Korea. She has published articles on North Korean science fiction, the Korean War in North and South Korean children’s literature, childhood in cinema, and Korean popular culture. Her translations of Korean fiction have appeared in wordwithoutborders.org, The Columbia Anthology of Modern Korean Short Stories, and the Asia Literary Review.

Presentations offered by Professor Zur:

The Story of Data: Science and Fiction in North and South Korea

Postwar Korean was shaped to a large extent by cold war ideologies. On both sides of the 38th parallel, ideological positions were determined, asserted and disseminated to the general public through a diverse range of media. And of these, children’s periodicals were perceived as particularly effective in molding the inner worlds of future generations and aligning them with the hegemonic anti-imperialist discourses of the postwar era. Perhaps less obvious is the role that science played in the formation of ideological identities in postwar North and South Korea. Much in the spirit the technical and scientific magazines circulating on both sides of the Iron Curtain, North and South Korean writers celebrated the advancement of science and technology and accorded to these developments great optimism. Even while the Korean people were struggling to recover from the devastation of the Korean War, both North and South Koreans delighted in the promise of atomic energy and long-range missiles to deliver limitless sources of energy for development for the ultimate purpose: forging a social and scientific utopia.

Scientific knowledge figured into children’s magazines as more than just numbers, formulas, and hard data. Writers of poetry and fiction grappled with the question of how to convey the lessons taught by science in their creative works. Their response was to insist on a mode of thought and language derived from science, namely: the execution of scientific (i.e. objective and rational) observation, and the insistence that fiction describe only scientifically proven phenomena. Poets demanded that children’s songs (tongyo) derive their inspiration from nature as the most appropriate channel for the poetic spirit (sisim). My talk explores the negotiation of science and fiction in postwar North Korea to illuminate not only political and ideological agendas, but to demonstrate that the nuts and bolts of science relied on modes of storytelling that necessitated, at the same time, the effacement of these modes in a process of what I call “the story of data.”

Anne Frank in North Korea and the Politics of Self-Writing

After the division of the Korean peninsula in 1945, foreign children’s literature was central to the development of North Korea’s burgeoning literary field. Translations of Soviet, Chinese, and other Communist Bloc fiction were featured regularly in the periodical Children’s Literature (Adong Munhak) in the first two decades after the Korean War. By the 1980s, however, translations all but disappeared from the pages of the children’s magazine with very few exceptions, among them The Diary of Anne Frank. The North Korean translation of Anne’s diary was published in fourteen installments by Children’s Literature between July 2002 and February 2004; it was also published in book form by educational publisher Kyoyuk tosŏ ch’ulp’ansa in 2002. Coming on the heels of North Korea’s disastrous famine, the decision to translate Anne Frank’s diary was likely driven by the need for the state, which was in the throes of extreme isolation and humanitarian crisis, to provide its young readers with models of resilience and perseverance, while ascribing food shortages and political isolation to abstract fascist forces (and attributing the less appealing aspects of the diary to the “inevitable shortcomings of a teenage capitalist”). But while the translator’s choices betray his ideological proclivities, the translation is surprising in two ways. First, it demonstrates that the North Korean literary establishment, even at its points of greatest isolation, was part of a global circulation of texts. Second, a close examination of the diary reveals places where, despite the translator’s best efforts, the text exposes itself to the possibility of multiple readings that run contrary to state ideology. Ultimately, I interrogate the extent to which the diary form—which is commonly used in North Korea and is obliquely related to practices of self-writing as self-surveillance—can reveal the individual’s most truthful, political, self. I question the extent to which various forms of self-writing signal their truth-stakes, and bring into focus the broader structural and institutional frames that both make and limit the extent of these truths.

Music and Children’s Poetry in Early Modern Korea

The appearance of the magazine Ǒrini in 1923 marked the beginning of new era of literary publications in Korea, one designed specifically for an audience of young readers. Ǒrini reflects the convictions of its editors, contributors, and children’s rights activists about the connection between literature and children’s emotional development. Children’s emotions were seen as a central target of reform in this period, and literature, particularly children’s poetry (called tongyo and tongsi), was considered a powerful conduit of this reform. In this talk, I draw links between the discourse around kamjŏng kyoyuk (emotional education) that circulated in print media of the time and the poetry and music that was supposed to facilitate this so-called emotional reform. The discourse around the modernizing force of emotional education through poetry and music brings to light the transnational aspects of the interest in children’s emotions in this period. At the same time, I explore the competing stakes in emotional reform on the Korean peninsula, particularly coming from the Ch’ŏndogyo, Buddhist, and Christian institutions, to uncover the moral underpinnings of children’s literature in the early twentieth century.

Dafna Zur currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities available in her term on the NEAC DSB:

3 engagements between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021

3 engagements between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022

3 engagements between April 1, 2022 and March 31 2023

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